Do your best.
Be the best you can be.
Give it your best shot.
We’re all taught to aspire for “the best,” but what does that mean, anyway?
When it comes to learning Russian, there’s no “best” way to learn. The learning method that worked for your friend might not work for your budget, schedule or learning style.
Finding the best way to learn Russian means finding the method that matches your particular goals and lifestyle.
If you’re thinking, “How on earth do I figure out what works best for me?” then fear not. This guide will walk you through different methods and help you find your own “best” way to learn Russian.
So what are you waiting for? On to the best!
Questions to Ask Yourself When Creating a Study Plan
Learning a language is pretty personal. Some of us are visual learners, some of us learn by doing and still others need solitude to do their best work.
Some learners are studying Russian for business communication while others want to be able to read “War and Peace” in Russian (good luck with that!). And some folks can take off weeks at a time to travel abroad, while other learners squeeze in their studies late at night after work.
If you want to master Russian, it’s worth thinking about your own learning style, reasons for learning Russian and schedule constraints. These factors will determine the learning plan that works best for you.
With so many things to consider in finding your own best ways to learn, it’s hard to know where to start! Here are some questions to get you thinking:
- Why are you learning Russian? Is it for personal or professional reasons? Identifying your “big picture” goals will help you focus on the right vocabulary and choose learning resources that cater to your needs.
Keep your goals in mind. Maybe even write them down and post them somewhere for inspiration when the learning gets tough.
- What level of proficiency are you aiming for? Do you need to complete an academic degree in Russian or just understand basic phrases while you travel? Your answers here will help you set realistic goals and determine how much work you need to put in daily, weekly and beyond.
- How do you learn best? In groups or on your own? By reading, seeing or listening? You can take an assessment test to help you determine your own learning style(s).
- What (realistically) does your schedule allow? For any plan to be the “best,” it’s got to work with your life. As you’ll see below, there’s a learning method for every schedule, so don’t feel pressured to overextend yourself—that’ll only lead to burning out!
What’s the Best Way to Learn Russian? Here’s How to Choose Yours!
Now that you’ve revisited why you’re learning Russian and thought about your learning style, let’s explore the best ways out there to learn Russian. There’s bound to be something here for you!
Dive into Russian Immersion
Immersion, or being surrounded by a language in day-to-day life, is how all of us learned our native tongue. And in fact, research shows that becoming a kid again and immersing yourself in a foreign language is an effective way to learn.
Plus, immersion offers something for every type of learner. Visual learner? In an immersive environment, you’re surrounded by Russian words and phrases wherever you look. Learn best by doing? Immersion will have you practicing Russian in your everyday life—buying groceries and getting around town.
Obviously, complete immersion in Russian requires travel to a Russian-speaking county… which requires having the time and funds to do that. The good news is that there are lots of short- and moderate-term options.
Ready to immerse yourself? Here are some ways to do it:
- Study abroad or volunteer abroad. If you’re still in college and can take advantage of a study abroad program, do it! And if your college days are fading in the rearview mirror, don’t worry—there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer abroad or take a short-term language course.
GoAbroad and Go Overseas both list tons of study abroad and volunteer programs throughout Russia, with details on the programs and reviews by past travelers. ShortCoursesPortal provides information on short-term language study programs.
- Travel or vacation abroad. If you don’t have the time for a language study program or stint as a volunteer abroad, vacationing in a Russian-speaking country is a great way to get some immersion into your language studies.
If you’re confident enough to travel on your own, all you need is a quality travel guide like Lonely Planet for a Russian immersion experience on your terms! Lonely Planet is useful in particular because its guides are researched on the ground and perfect for finding those spots off the tourist-beaten track.
For the less adventurous, there are a number of formal tour options—Welcome to Russia, Express to Russia and Kensington Tours, just to name a few—but note that the immersion factor will be decreased.
And for the soccer fans out there, the 2018 World Cup will be held in 11 cities across Russia. If you want the ultimate combo of language and cultural immersion, catching some of those games is definitely the best way to get it.
Find Russian Speakers in Your Area
Don’t be discouraged if immersion abroad isn’t an option for you. There are lots of ways to interact with Russian speakers even from your own backyard.
- Look for local conversation partners. You’d be surprised where you can find native Russian speakers! Search for Russian conversation or language exchange on Craigslist in your city or region, (typically the “Services” page is the one to browse) or ask at the foreign languages department of your local university or community college.
You can also look in any Russian-language publications in your area. See if you can arrange a language exchange: Russian practice for you and English practice for your partner, splitting your time together between the two languages.
- Take local classes. If the foreign language department at your local university or community college can’t help with a conversation partner, it probably at least offers extension classes or classes you can audit.
If your schedule permits it, these classes can be a great way to get in language practice while learning from Russian native speakers or fluent Russian experts.
- Tutors. If you’re a verbal learner, but conversation partners and college courses won’t work with your life, think about finding a tutor. Wyzant is an easy option for finding Russian tutors in your area. All you have to do is note you schedule and answer a few questions about your learning goals, and then Wyzant will show you vetted language experts who meet your needs. You can browse their credentials and reviews from past students to choose the best one for you.
If you’re out of town a lot, or you just don’t want to get out of your pajamas for a language lesson, Wyzant also offers online tutoring options.
Take Online Courses
Trying to fit Russian practice into a busy schedule? Looking for a flexible learning method? Or maybe you do your best work on your own?
Then online courses are your best bet. There are plenty of online courses to choose from, allowing you to learn at your own pace and fit the lessons into your schedule. What could be better? Here are a few to consider if online courses are the best option for you:
- MasterRussian: MasterRussian offers short Russian lessons that cover the basic topics for beginners, plus lots of additional resources on more advanced topics. And it’s free!
- RussianPod101: This popular resource provides material for all types of language learners.
There are audio and video lessons created by experts, and don’t expect to run through them anytime soon! There are more than 1,000 to explore. The visual learners out there will also appreciate the PDF lesson notes that come with this resource, and if you’re a social learner, you’ll definitely want to participate in the RussianPod101 forums and discussions.
- RussianLessons.net: Also free, RussianLessons.net has solid lessons for beginners, covering the basics of Russian vocabulary and grammar. Where the site really shines, though, is in the advanced lessons on grammar and vocabulary. These explain some of the trickier concepts in Russian clearly and with good examples.
Watch Authentic Russian Content
For visual and aural learners, as well as anyone with a tight schedule, authentic Russian videos, movies and TV shows are perfect to absorb the language the way native speakers really use it.
For this learning method, one of the first tools you should check out is FluentU.
The videos come with captions you can click to get in-context definitions for any unfamiliar words and phrases.
That means you’ll get essential exposure to authentic Russian while actively building your vocabulary. And the video plus audio plus captions format makes this resource ideal for many different types of learners.
Not to mention the fact that you can take FluentU anywhere with the mobile app for iOS or Android! So even super-busy learners can squeeze in some Russian practice between meetings, on their commute or anywhere else.
The places where you find your favorite TV shows and binge watch 80s movies also have loads of Russian language content. For example, Netflix has a good selection of Russian-language movies.
Good old YouTube is also a nice option here. And it’s not just about movies and TV shows! For example, you can learn informal Russian and slang by watching the most popular Russian vloggers.
Read in Russian
If you’re studying Russian for business or professional reasons, or if you’re a visual or solitary learner, reading should be among your “best” methods for learning.
But even if you’re a bookworm, it can be hard to settle down and read for an extended period with all the pressures of our social and professional worlds. The key to engaging with written Russian is to find the Russian equivalent of what you love to read in English. This will help keep you motivated to practice everyday.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Poetry: Russians love their poetry. And there’s lots of Russian poetry to love. If reading it intimidates you, start with listening to recitals of poetry and then graduate to reading.
- Prose: You don’t have to start with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky in the original. Find authors with an accessible style and vocabulary, like Sergei Dovlatov, or try short stories to start.
- Online writing: If you’re an internet news, fashion or pop culture junkie, there are plenty of Russian language sites to check out. You can read the news in Russian, get your horoscope or try Russian social media platforms—you name it, the Russian-language internet has it.
Well done: you’ve found your own “best” way to learn Russian! Of course, to really master Russian, you’ve got to put it to use over and over. Those Russian proverbs are right: повторение – мать учения (repetition is the mother of learning)!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.